Whoop whoop! We’re going to Turkey! This isn’t part of the original plan, but when I mention to Maggie that Istanbul is an 8 hour overnight bus ride from Varna, we decide to check it out. I think she’s ready for a bit of a break and I always love a new adventure, even if it’s last minute.
I book a hotel for one night before we leave and off we go! The ride is long, but as I think I mentioned before, the buses in Bulgaria are definitely the way to travel. Free wifi on board and snacks/drinks are served. But no matter which mode of transportation you choose, there’s always those people on board. You know the ones. They talk loudly, listen to their music, kick the back of your seat. They make sleeping very difficult.
When we get to the border crossing, we all have to get off the bus into the freezing cold night, stand in line to buy a visa (as the only two American passport holders, we are the only ones required to get visas and are grossly overcharged for this), get our passports stamped, grab our bags, walk through a security set up, and finally get back on the bus.
We arrive in Istanbul around 6am and find a cab to take us to our hotel in Sultanahmet. Because we are so early, we aren’t able to check in, so we sit in the lobby for a half hour until they can even look up our reservations. Turns out there is more than one of our hotel in the area and we are at the wrong one! I knew it was too nice for what we were paying. Fortunately our real hotel is a short walk away and we find it easily.
After dropping our stuff off with the hotel staff (it’s still too early to check in), we eat a quick breakfast with phenomenal views of the Bosphorus.
Soon we head out to see the town. The day is just getting started for the people of Istanbul so we get our first taste of rush hour traffic. Fortunately, we can walk everywhere we want to go.
On our way to the Spice Market, we pass a mosque covered in pigeons. This city is absolutely littered with mosques, and they are all so beautiful. I wish we had more time here so I could photograph them all.
Since we arrived so early, we get to the Spice Market just as it’s opening. There’s almost no one here, a huge difference from how it will be in a few hours. We walk up and down the isles, checking out the spices, buying gifts for people back home (and a few things for ourselves, of course). Most stalls sell virtually the same things, so it’s just a matter of finding the best price for the exact object you want.
Once we finish at the Spice Market, we walk over to the Grand Bazaar. One thing Maggie comments on as a stark contrast to Bulgaria is how friendly the people are here. If you are stopped, looking at a map, someone will come up to you and ask you if you need directions. It’s pretty much the only way we make it to the Grand Bazaar without getting lost, even with a map.
This place is huge! It would be very easy to get lost in. And while it caters more to tourists these days than the locals of yesterday, you still feel like you’re stepping back in time when you walk through this maze of shops and restaurants. Since it’s still early, we are able to navigate the halls with relative ease.
I absolutely love these colorful lanterns and wish I could take them all home. I do end up buying myself a purple one.
There are actually more bazaars in Istanbul than just these two, but these are the most famous. Due to time constraints, they are the only two we see, but someday I hope to go back and more thoroughly explore all of them. For now, it’s time to head towards the the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque! More on those next.